Sunday, March 27, 2011

The (non) Problem of Evil

  "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28) In this statement the Apostle Paul makes the modern reader ask a question: If I love God, then why do I suffer? We seek the answer in what the scholars term theodicy, that is the Justification of God (See How could a Good God allow me to suffer is the key question in this line of thought (As shown in Rabbi Kushner's work When Bad Things Happen to Good People). If God is Good, and if I love Him, why do I suffer?

  Yet, we have to object to this question on two fronts. Is God good? And then we have to call into question Rabbi Kushner's thesis that there is such a thing as a good person. We want to believe that God is good instead of believing that God is Just. Due to our misunderstanding, we ask a question that cannot be asked.

  "The theologian can support this view (that the line of questioning is invalid) by two facts; first, the human arrogance implied in the very idea of a theodicy - the attempt to "justify the ways of God to man" - and secondly, the fact that the question is never explicitly raised in the New Testament." (pg. 176-177) Brunner continues his thought, saying that "those who really believe in Jesus Christ, this question of theodicy cannot be raised." (pg. 177)  We shall focus, for the sake of this post, to focus on the first point, that the question of why does evil exist is solely based on human arrogance and pride, and not on Biblical foundations.

   We believe, in our arrogance and piety, that if we love God we will no longer have to suffer. If God loves us, and is a God of Love, then why does He allow us, His faithful to suffer? In asking this, we negate the central message of the Christian Narrative. We negate the Cross. Let me explain through Brunner. "If Jesus the Son of God was crucified, owing to the most terrible miscarriage of justice and judicial murder in the history of the world, as a sacrifice to the most incredible blindness and malice, can any of His disciples expect to receive a guarantee that nothing of that kind will happen to him?" (pg. 158)  In our perverted sense of self-worth, we answer this question with a resounding Yes! Christ had to suffer, yet I do not have to. We want the disciple to be above his Lord. (pg. 158) We understand that Christ had to suffer, but we expect  God, in His Death, "to remove all difficulties and constantly" turn "everything into good." (pg. 158) Our pride, sadly does not stop there. We have "the arrogance that God "ought" to allow Himself to be measured by our standard of justice." (pg. 184) The long and short of it is that we want to be in a special position, where we need not suffer.

    Yet, "The Good Shepherd does permit His sheep to go through the Dark Valley." (pg. 158) Why? Not because He is a Good God, but due to His nature; due to His being a Just God. Evil "is the product of apostasy from God, of the perversion of the divine order of Creation. It is the product of the misused gift of human freedom." (pg. 181) Evil is a result of the great No that human answers God with. It is not because God is cruel that there is evil. It is because we are cruel.

  It is then not up to us to solve the problem. It is "here, in the centre of the revelation, the problem of theodicy is solved, but not in theory (as in those theories of the philosophers and the theologians), but "existentially", and practically. (pg. 182) (When we try solve the problem, we create more. Our trying to understand through theory continues our rejection and rebellion from God.)  It is in the Cross that the problem of evil is solved. It is God breaking through to us, revealing Himself to us, and subjecting Himself to "death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8) Brunner continues, "we stand before the Cross...not as innocent or neutral spectators, who gaze with horror into an obyss outside themselves which appears with the world, with all its injustice and pain, but we ourselves stand in the midst of the abyss." (pg. 182) Going back a little bit, we want to view ourselves as Good People, in Rabbi Kushner's words. we want to thing that we are either innocent or neutral and that we play no role in the Cross. This is a false view taken from a prideful stance. We are the one's that made God undertake an "opus alienum", a strange work that is alien to who He is.

  The problem of evil cannot have an answer. It is mysterious to us, because we do not want to admit culpability in it. We want to "make God responsible for something that men do." (pg. 177) The friends of Job tried in vain to answer the question of why Job is suffering, but those answers, those "smooth solutions...seemed to (Job) to be futile excuses." (pg. 178) There are no smooth solutions, and the only "solution" is the Cross of Christ.

   It is here, at the Cross that "it becomes evident that evil is that which God does not will, and does not do, and at the same time, that God has such power over this evil, which He does not will, that He is able to perceive the unity of the mercy, the righteousness...of God. At this point is granted to us to have a glimpse into the mystery of the divine government of the world; the impenetrable darkness which otherwise lies upon it, is lifted like a curtain before our eyes. As soon as we look away from the Cross and try to explain world history ourselves in theological terms, the curtain falls once more, and we are left gazing into impenetrable darkness." (pg. 182) It is only through the Cross that "the real solution of the problem of theodicy" is revealed. And that solution is redemption.


   We then need to change the question. The question is now: Why do we reject God and create Evil?


  1. Why all of the trouble to take the blame off God? It seems to me that the majority of Theology written is playing this blame question about evil. Are there genuine times when God is not to blame but people are? I cannot accept this idea that (always) evil exists in the world because I have rejected God and I have created evil. Isaiah clearly states this when he counters it and says, "I am Yahweh, I form peace and create evil." I worship a God who is responsible for evil, so what? It is him I worship because it is him alone who exists as the sovereign Trinity.

  2. I do agree with Eric to some extent. Why, if there is not theological or theoretical explanation, turn the blame on us? This does not follow? Is this what you see in the cross?


  3. Eric-
    I think that you missed my (and Brunner's) main point in this. The problem of evil, and the problem of trying to find a blame for who created evil disappears in the Cross. We have in the Cross an event that God's Yes to our No. I think if we leave out humanities rejection of God in this discussion, we are doing something wrong. I understand that Deutro-Isaiah states that God created evil. Yet, I think that we cannot just take this verse into account, but have to understand it in the whole narrative.

    I understand that Brunner's discussion has gotten too existential and he is placing too much of the onus and blame upon humanity.

    I think Brunner would understand Isaiah 45:7 as the right and left hand of God, to use a metaphor he is straining. God creates peace on with His right hand, and Evil with His left. Following Luther, it would be a strange work, a non-willed work. Evil would then be co-created, God creates Evil in response to Man's rejection.

  4. Larry-
    This is what Brunner sees in the Cross- God replying and re-issuing the call to communion with Him. It is, for Him, the act that makes the problem of theodicy disappear. The question now should be a question of redemption. Why would God redeem us?

    I think that Brunner overstates things. I think a better way is understanding what I said in the comment above about a co-creation of Evil, and then God "creating peace", removing Evil, in the Cross. That's at least my thought off the top of my head.

  5. Dan,

    The question of course is then, how does evil disappear with the cross? Usually we hear that the cross does something with evil, either destroying it, suppressing it, substituting it, etc. I don't think I missed Brunner's or your point, I am just tired of the theological and philosophical "ace cards" being played. Your reference to "Deutro-Isaiah's" contextualized problematic verse (45:7-8) is in fact used correctly, in the correct context. Chapters 40-55 are the strongest "systematic theology" in the OT. Isaiah is laying down a case for Yahweh complete sovereignty. This specific verse is in the direct context of "electing" both of Cyrus (seen in patristic exegesis as a messiah typology) and the covenant people Israel. Yahweh is affirming that if he can elect them, he can also cause them evil, disaster, and calamity. Don't play the "context" ace card either Dan! Although I think you are correct about Brunner's right and left hand here.

  6. Eric-

    The Cross does not make Evil disappear, but it makes the problem of Evil go away, the question changes. The Cross does not destroy, suppress,. or substitute something for Evil. It just makes it a non-problem for the believer.

    I am not trying to play any trump cards here. It seems that I am backing up my position and then you say that I'm trumping you. What else can I do if that is how the question is set up?

    Brunner has to fall back on the right and left hand, as that is his main metaphor to understanding the bible. I think he is correct here, too.

  7. How does the cross make evil disappear?

  8. Yet again, Evil does not disappear due to the Cross. It just becomes a non-issue. Due to the redemptive act, Evil is not an issue, redemption is now the issue that we need to dwell on, according to Brunner.

  9. Sorry, how does the problem of evil go away? You have not given any arguments for that.

  10. Eric,
    I am afraid that whatever I say will be seen as me trying to trump you. You have put me in an awkward situation. Brunner argues, like I said in the comment above, that we now need to talk about Redemption after the Cross instead of talking about Evil.

    To use what you said in one of your first posts, God created (with His Left Hand) Evil. Yet, with His Right Hand, He 'created' Redemption. We need to stop focusing on the Left Hand, as that leads us to theodicy, and focus on the Right Hand.

    Maybe it's not that the problem disappears or goes away, it just becomes a matter for 'speculative theology' which Brunner wishes to get away from. Brunner wants to change the topic, and I'm not sure if he gives enough reasons to do such.

  11. Everything slips back into relationship and communion, for Brunner. So Evil becomes a broken relationship, and the Cross, by offering the prospect of re-union, takes away Evil by giving us community again. Thus, Evil goes away as a focus, as we now need to focus on relationship. That is how and why Evil disappears.